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Distributed for National University of Singapore Press

Nature’s Colony

Empire, Nation and Environment in the Singapore Botanic Gardens

Distributed for National University of Singapore Press

Nature’s Colony

Empire, Nation and Environment in the Singapore Botanic Gardens

Established in 1859, the Singapore Botanic Gardens are arguably the most important colonial botanic gardens in the world. Not only have the Gardens been important as a park for Singaporeans and visitors, they have had a significant role as a scientific institution and as a testing ground for tropical plantation agriculture implemented around the world. As Timothy P. Barnard shows in Nature’s Colony, underlying each of these uses is a broader story of the Botanic Gardens as an arena where power and the natural world meet and interact.
Initially conceived to exploit nature for the benefit of empire, the Gardens were part of a symbolic struggle by administrators, scientists, and gardeners to assert dominance within Southeast Asia’s tropical landscape, reflecting shifting understandings of power, science, and nature among local administrators and distant mentors in Britain. Consequently, as an outpost of imperial science, the Gardens were instrumental in the development of plantation crops, such as rubber and oil palm, which went on to shape landscapes across the globe. Since the independence of Singapore, the Gardens have played a role in the “greening” of the country and have been named as Singapore’s first World Heritage Site. Setting the Gardens alongside the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and botanic gardens in India, Ceylon, Mauritius, and the West Indies, Nature’s Colony provide the first in-depth look at the history of this influential institution.

304 pages | 4 color plates, 26 halftones, 4 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Asian Studies: Southeast Asia and Australia

History: Asian History, British and Irish History, Environmental History

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“Barnard's Nature's Colony gives detail to the shifting function of the Garden, and the competing values projected onto it.”

Times Literary Supplement

“Barnard has researched a masterpiece on the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ history, greatly enriching our knowledge and reinforcing its inscription as a World Heritage Site of global significance. We get the fascinating back story to the trials and tribulations suffered by the superintendents and directors as the administrative environment changed during more than 150 years of the Gardens’ progress. . . . Barnard has given us a new and very different view of the history of gardens in Singapore and how we should interpret them as part of cultural history in an ever-changing world.”

Nigel P. Taylor, Singapore Botanic Gardens

Nature’s Colony is a fascinating exploration of Singapore’s long-established botanical garden. For visitors since colonial times, the Garden has been a tranquil window into Southeast Asia’s biodiversity. The book conjures up both the changing romantic visions and the scientific imperatives that inspired the Garden’s curators.  The book also takes us behind the fringe of leaves into scientific politics and the politics of Singapore society during its many transformations. Genially written and rich in anecdote, this book will enchant both historians and general readers.”

Robert Cribb, Australian National University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Chapter 1: Nature’s Colony
Chapter 2: Creating a Garden
Chapter 3: Conservation and Forests
Chapter 4: A Zoo in the Gardens
Chapter 5: The Economic Garden
Chapter 6: Hortus Singapurensis
Chapter 7: Improving on Nature in the Laboratory
Chapter 8: The Gardens in a Garden City

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